Deforestation in Costa Rica started in the late 16th century with coffee and banana plantations, this then later developed into agriculture and grasslands, this process continues to this day and areas of Costa Rica are being deforested by both locals and foreign companies who are converting forests into monocrop agricultures, real estate developments and grasslands. This is an ongoing problem.
Coffee, bananas and pineapples and more …
Costa Rica exported its first coffee in 1820. In 1845, Costa Rica began to export coffee to Great Britain and for 40 years coffee was practically the only trade in the country, apart from bananas, which were now becoming more popular. Unlike coffee, bananas require extensive patches of land, infrastructure, and intensive labour, this discouraged small-scale producers so large companies such as the United Fruit Company began to establish themselves in the country. This new industry had a ripple effect, more forests were cleared to make way for monocultures, more workers were hired and therefore more forests were cleared to make way for workers’ homes. Approximately 20% of the annual felling was now being done by the banana plantations alone.
After bananas came pineapples, Costa Rica exports more pineapples worldwide than any other country, over 40% of the world’s total exported pineapples come from Costa Rica. In turn taking away more rainforest land. The problem with these monocultures is not only the forest being cut down in order to make space for them but also the excessive amount of chemicals and pesticides used to maintain them, there is a very well known pesticide problem in Costa Rica, they use more pesticides than any other country in the world! On average 18.2 kg of pesticides per hectare of monoculture. There are even communities in Costa Rica that have been so heavily polluted by pesticides from plantations, that they no longer have access to unpolluted water and have to have purified water tanks transported to them.
The scary thing is there are no signs of these expansions slowing down. One of the latest government reports shows that there is a 300% increase in monoculture plantations in the last 3 years.
Coffee and bananas dominated the Costa Rica economy until the arrival of the livestock industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Cattle farmers began to take over, they were subsidized by first world countries to burn forests in order to provide a cheap source of meat to multi-national companies such as Burger King and Wendy’s. Cattle were introduced from Asia and were perfectly adapted to the tropical climate of Costa Rica, this discovery, together with the expansion of the US market for fast food restaurants gave rise to massive growth of the Costa Rica livestock industry, making it the largest meat producer in Central America at that time! In 1977 a study revealed that agriculture and grasslands were taking up 47.3% of land. 1977. It maintained this title until 1986, producing a total of 89 million tons of beef, of which around 36 million was exported and of this 96% would end up in the United States. This means that Costa Rica provided 9.8% of total annual US consumption. All this development meant that a third of the country was cut and covered with grasslands, the country lost 4% of its forests every year, this loss was faster than any other country in the west, including the famous Amazon! Between 1940 and 1987 Costa Rica lost half of its forests.